TALLAHASSEE Subcommittees in the Republican-controlled House narrowed the number of redistricting maps the chamber is considering in separate and largely partisan votes Monday.
Most Democrats opposed the maps. Some called for public hearings around Florida before final roll calls are taken.
The panels approved three maps each for the House and Florida's congressional delegation as well as the Senate's single proposal for redistricting itself.
The House began with five maps for itself and seven for Congress. House and Senate redistricting leaders have agreed to not to draw maps for each other's chamber.
Lawmakers are beginning their annual session on Tuesday, two months earlier than usual so the maps can be passed and reviewed by the courts and federal government before the Aug. 14 primary election. Lawmakers also are considering a proposal to move the primary back a week.
The Senate Reapportionment Committee is scheduled to vote on its plans — one each for the Senate and Congress — on Wednesday and floor votes are expected next week. The full House Redistricting Committee is set to consider its maps on Jan. 20.
Only one member of the public, Democratic congressional candidate Jim Roach of Cape Coral, appeared before the Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee.
Roach said the congressional maps pack high percentages of Democrats into a handful of districts, which would give Republicans a better chance of winning more seats.
"I know you didn't plan it that way, but it's time to look at that again," Roach said. "We're going to be doing this for 10 years; we're going to be using these maps, stuck with these maps. They're politically not fair."
Republicans say they didn't consider the political consequences due to a pair of new state constitutional amendments that prohibit lawmakers from gerrymandering in favor of incumbents or political parties.
The GOP holds 19 of Florida's current 25 congressional districts. The state will add two more seats this year due to population growth.
Lawmakers also will be redistricting the 120-seat House and 40-seat Senate. Republicans, as well, hold overwhelming majorities in both although Democrats still hold an edge in voter registration statewide.
The Legislature held 26 public hearings around the state before drafting the maps. Neither chamber plans more hearings outside Tallahassee, but the Senate Reapportionment Committee did seek public comment on its maps by way of telephone, email and video recordings before voting to introduce its plans — one each for the Senate and congressional delegation — last month.
"I don't believe you can have too much public participation," said Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach. "We're going to do our citizens a disservice."
"That sounds like a fair enough idea, but in terms of the time frame it's probably impractical," responded Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.
The legislative maps automatically go to the Florida Supreme Court and Gov. Rick Scott has veto power over the congressional plan. All three maps are subject to Justice Department review to make sure they comply with the federal Voting Rights Act because of past racial discrimination in five Florida counties.
Lawsuits challenging the maps also are likely as they are the first to be drawn under the Fair Districts amendments. Besides barring lines from being drawn to benefit incumbents or political parties, the amendments protect minority representation and require districts to follow city and county lines when possible.
The proposals in both chambers generally retain existing black and Hispanic-access and majority districts and keep more cities and counties intact than the existing maps.
The congressional maps also include a central Florida district with a Hispanic voting age population of 38 percent to 40 percent that could open the door for a fourth Hispanic U.S. House member from Florida. Most central Florida Hispanics, though, are Democratic leaning Puerto Ricans. Florida's three existing Hispanic U.S. representatives are Cuban-American Republicans. Florida also would retain its existing three black- access and majority congressional districts.
The public will have a chance to review the maps and other details on the Legislature's website — http://www.leg.state.fl.us. — before final votes are taken, said Rep. John Legg, a Port Richey Republican who chairs the congressional panel.
Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, said that's not good enough because many people don't have Internet access or computers. Legg said he'd talk to House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, about finding other ways to make the plans available to the public.